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Jérôme Zonder

Études pour le portrait de Pierre-François
June 5 - July 31, 2020
Cloître St Merri II, Paris










Galerie Nathalie Obadia is very pleased to present French artist Jérôme Zonder’s third exhibition at the gallery, Études pour le portrait de Pierre-François.

Born in 1974 in Paris, Jérôme Zonder has spent the last twenty or so years developing an oeuvre centered on the practice of drawing. He works with all its resources and pushes thie media to its limits, in a graphic system ranging from hyperrealism to abstraction. Conceived either as a two-dimentional piece or as an immersive environment, this experimental and constantly renewed body of work invites the viewer to a universe in which interrogations on the human condition become the subjects of representation : «Drawing is for me like creating a symbolic space which works; building a space in which one can bring in the world and its questions

With the exhibition Études pour le portrait de Pierre-François, name borrowed to Michel Carné’s movie Les Enfants du Paradis, Jérôme Zonder pursues his exploration of the notions of identity and figuration through one of the three characters that haunt his universe in a permanent back and forth between reality and fiction, Pierre-François. In the background, a whole network of historical and macrocosmic evocations transcends the portrait and include it in a broader reflection on the future of humanity.

Using the specific means of his favorite media, graphite and charcoal drawing, the artist opens his research to an ontological dimension, looking to represent subjects with the very material they are made of: carbon, one of the main molecular components of the human body. Jérôme Zonder especially focuses on the transition to adulthood, the very age of metamorphose, which works together with the maturation of his graphic creations. While Pierre-François becomes a young adult, the drawing itself mutates into a combination of different writing regimes: realistic treatment, print drawing, clear ligns, fragments of comics, reminiscences of art history and abstract zones of charcoal. With these « studies », Zonder opens a space for his drawing where forms of indistinction bring into play the notion of limits. This tumultuous underground which borrows from the aesthetic of collage its visual and narrative complexity evokes thus the whole psychological and mental constitution of his model, marked by as much by the history of the world as the events of his intimacy.

The news emerges thus throughout the work (fires in Australia, protests in Chili, atomic bomb…) in a vast « wall of images » in which one sees the iconic data that compose and decompose the model, at a time where screens and social media also make us data ourselves. The traumatic memory as the uninterrupted visual flux which constitutes our common culture and shapes our relation to the world are thus at the heart of this entangled narrative.

Common to several of these portraits is the figure of Harlequin, which runs through Western painting - one obviously thinks of Picasso or Derain, where he appears as the artist’s double - and offers here the opportunity for a particular graphic treatment, that of the pattern, which also evokes Mondrian’s grids. Solitude, fragility and melancoly are thus suggested, but the childlike gentleness traditionally associated with the character is nevertheless shattered by the fragmented, almost cubist composition of these drawings, where a dark violence characteristic of the artist’s work emerges in places. 

In the two large bust portraits of Pierre-François, Jérôme Zonder depicts the primitive and impulsive brain of his character, whose depths he probes. The skin is treated in the smallest details and constitutes a tissue of raw flesh or animal membranes, manifestations of the «reptilian brain» subject to desire: one thus enters the matter as one enters the character’s unconscious.  To this shamelessness of the glance answers that of Pierre-François in Harlequin whose solitary sexuality appears in all its frontality. Jérôme Zonder has nourished himself with an iconographic repertoire from the seventh art that appeals to our collective culture: he thus claims the influence of Larry Clark’s particularly raw photographs of teenagers, of Jean Eustache’s film La Maman et la putain or of the scene in Stankey Kubrick’s Shining where the desirable naked young woman is transformed at the moment of the kiss into a rotten corpse. So many references that are repeated in the drawing, in the manner of subliminal images.

Through a virtuoso «sedimentation process» in which multiple graphic writings are telescoped, Jérôme Zonder asks the question of the line and thus of the subject. The challenge is to produce a «system of representation that strives to contain the whole world - the world in all its diversity, complexity and heterogeneity». Hence the desire underlying the portrait to bring out the great history and to express humanity in suffering. A passage from the singular to the universal that the artist sums up as follows: «The brain is infinite like the cosmos in a way, and the black and white of my drawings becomes here, literally, grey matter».